Mind the (Thigh) Gap
Ever heard the phrase “Mind the gap?” It’s a warning to train passengers to take caution while crossing the gap between the train door and the station platform that began in London. Today, it’s time to use that phrase as a warning of a different kind of life-or-death danger – the obsession with “thigh gaps” taking place on social media and beyond. Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter are flooded with thigh gaps, which are basically pictures of thin legs from the front or back with space in between them. The thigh gap qualifying “rule” is for the gap to be visible when the person’s feet are together. Millions are following this trend online and resorting to unhealthy extremes to get a gap of their own – a trendy status symbol of beauty.
We believe this trend is SO pervasive because it is so largely unattainable. It pops up where you’d least expect it – on conservative blogs or Instagram feeds of young moms wearing skinny jeans “just showing off their cute new sandals!” And it pops up where you’d always expect it – the Twitter feeds of supermodels with profiles dedicated to their thigh gaps (and no, we will not link to them and give them unnecessary attention).
We are asking you to MIND THE (THIGH) GAP. The next time you see thin thighs and the space between them being celebrated online — whether blatantly or subtly — mind the gap! Use it as a warning that what you’re seeing is the latest symbol of oppression and objectification for girls and women – not a symbol of feminine success, health and beauty. Sounds a bit extreme? We don’t think so. Here are four reasons it’s time to mind the gap:
1. Significant thigh gaps in real life are brought to us by certain genetics, ethnicities, pelvic sizes and widths, and most girls and women do not have a natural gap, according to a director at the Children’s National Medical Center in D.C. If you or someone you know has a thigh gap, cool! That’s great. We’re not calling anyone out for resorting to unhealthy extremes to get one; we are simply pointing out the reality that thigh gaps are not NEARLY as common in real life as media would have us believe. These days, websites are dedicated to explaining how to get a gap between your legs when your feet are together and too many of them emphasize that you must avoid exercises like calf raises, squats, lunges, stairs, or anything else that might build muscle. Really?! No.
2. Thanks to the wonders of an easy tool on Photoshop, thigh gaps are made and widened with one click. If a media maker has any sort of photo editing software, she or he can make a thigh gap appear instantly. Victoria’s Secret is especially proficient at using it constantly! One of the easiest ways to detect this Photoshop trend is to check out the background behind the model. If the area behind her thigh gap is blurred or looks different than the area on the other sides of her legs, it’s a good way to spot a Photoshop hack job thigh gap.
3. The perfect way to objectify a woman is to literally or figuratively view her as a compilation of body parts to be looked at, judged, and fixed. If you see an image of a woman without her face visible or with her head cut off, she is being objectified. It happens to women in media EVERY SECOND. You can’t pass a billboard without seeing a headless woman selling plastic surgery or flip through a magazine without a set of breasts selling anything unrelated to breasts. Millions of thigh gap pictures are floating around online to serve as inspiration for girls and women fixated on the gap and willing to resort to any extreme to get there (plastic surgery, eating disorders, exercise obsession, etc.). SO many of these thigh gap pictures feature only part of a woman, which effectively renders her less than human. Most of them feature naked or nearly naked women. What a great way to keep a girl in her place as a sexual object to be looked at. Instead of moving on to progress and be happy in any way that matters – instead of looking outside ourselves for one moment – girls and women are learning to obsess about their parts and self-objectify to a degree never before seen.
“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter [power], the mind shapes itself to the body and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison” (Wollstonecraft, 1792).
4. New beauty ideals are being sold to us at every possible turn. Media makers and industry leaders are coming up with new “flaws” we need to feel ashamed of so we’ll shell out our hard earned money, compromise our health, and stay in the prisons of our own bodies instead of living, being, and doing. From our heads to our toes, we’ve got so much to worry about! Hair color, complexion, eyelash length, eyebrow shape, nose shape, lip fullness, skin color (too dark OR too pale), skin softness, skin firmness, armpit smoothness, body hair, amount of cellulite, body shape, weight, and our toenails. “Women’s work” is beauty labor, and it keeps us from the happiness and fulfillment of doing ANYTHING ELSE. Can you imagine the progress girls and women could make in every possible field if we could learn to rebel against industries that are established to prey on our insecurities? Scholars assert that beginning with puberty and continuing across the life course, girls are twice as likely to experience depression as boys and men. For girls but not boys, self-esteem plummets at puberty and is directly associated with body dissatisfaction, which negatively affects their performance in mental and physical activities, including mathematics, logical reasoning, spatial skills, athletic performance, and sexual assertiveness.* Next time you see a thigh gap being celebrated online, mind the gap as a symbol of oppression that is keeping girls and women inside the prison of adorning their bodies. You can work on taking back beauty that rightfully belongs to you by refusing to buy the lies these industries are selling.
So if you have “thick thighs” or any meat on your thighs at all, it’s time to stop vilifying them! It’s time to stop hiding them by sitting in that precisely flattering way or only wearing baggy clothes or refusing to swim or hike or play in case someone sees them in all their regular-womanly-thigh glory. Can you imagine the inexpressible joy girls and women across the world would feel if we could just have ONE DAY to not worry about the way our thighs LOOK and instead focus on how awesome our thighs are, seeing as how they help us to LIVE and DO and BE and PLAY and WORK? What if we took the time to appreciate having the use of our thighs, regardless of what they look like, and consider what a gift they are? Many people don’t even get to enjoy fully functioning thighs. I don’t know about you, but I’m dedicated to doing my best to appreciate them and OWN that gift every day with the help of my thighs that absolutely, positively touch each other when my feet are together, and always will forever, thank you very much.
Friends, social media is where activism takes place. Do you realize your power in this world to DO and BE and SPEAK? You are where you are right now on purpose, and you’ve got some cool work to do that no one else can do. You’ve got more power and influence than you know to make a difference in a world that needs you – not just a vision of you, not just you with a thigh gap – but ALL of you. And you’ve got an opportunity to take media into your own hands – to use it for good, to share positive truths with your circles, to choose what you will and won’t watch/read and help others do the same. A good place to start is on our Facebook page. Just like Naomi Wolf says in her awesome book The Beauty Myth, “While we cannot directly affect the images [in media], we can drain them of their power. We can turn away from them and look directly at one another. We can lift ourselves and other women out of the myth.”
We take a bottom-up approach to the epidemic of body hatred and looks obsession plaguing girls and women today. We are all about rethinking the ideas of “beautiful” and “healthy” that we’ve likely learned from for-profit media that thrives off female insecurity. Girls and women who feel OK about their bodies — meaning they aren’t “disgusted” with them like more than half of women today – take better care of themselves. With obesity and eating disorders both at epidemic levels, this point is crucial! Lindsay and I continuously promote the idea that all women are worthwhile AND beautiful while fighting against the harmful ideals we’re sold at every turn. So, whether you’ve got a thigh gap or not, it’s time to MIND THE GAP and then turn our time, attention and energy to much better things. Each time you see a thigh gap being unhealthily celebrated in media, choose to heed that warning symbol – a symbol of oppression that serves to keep us “in our place” as objects to be looked at. Next time you see a blatant celebration of the thigh gap, mind the gap in these easy ways:
- Take the opportunity to share our website or this post with whoever posted the photo or commented about striving for that ideal.
- If the photo you saw triggered a feeling of shame or inadequacy about your own body, go for a walk or play a sport or dance with your mom, sister, friends or mirror to remind yourself what a gift your body is.
- If you frequent a Tumblr, Facebook page, or Instagram account that features thinspiration like thigh gap images, whether intentionally focusing on thigh thinness or just subtly highlighting it in the name of “fashion,” turn away. Unsubscribe. Unfollow. Block them so you don’t go back.
- If you shop at stores that glorify the thigh gap and perpetuate it as a beauty ideal, speak up with your pocketbook and stop shopping there. Hit them where it counts!
- Now give a girl or woman in your life a hug and tell them why they are so amazing. I have a feeling it’s about way more than whether or not she has space between her thighs.
*Fredrickson et al. 1998; Fredrickson & Harrison, 2004; Gapinski, Brownell, & LaFrance, 2003; Harter, 1993; Hebl, King, & Lin, 2004; Nolen-Hoeksema, 1990; Simmons, Rosenberg, & Rosenberg, 1973; Steinberg, 1999; Steingraber, 2007
**Patricia van den Berg & Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. (2007). Journal of Adolescent Health.